Kasich might veto ag bill


First Posted: 11/26/2014

COLUMBUS — If lawmakers don’t keep a requirement that phone companies must provide landlines, Gov. John Kasich will veto the sweeping agriculture bill, one of his cabinet directors told a Senate panel Tuesday.

“We would be sacrificing all of the great work done so far on this bill if these provisions are not removed,” said James Zehringer, director of the Department of Natural Resources.

House Bill 490 currently would let phone companies drop landline service in certain areas, once they get federal approval that would end their responsibility as “carriers of last resort.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Cliff Hite said there are “numerous choices” in how to proceed on the broadband-related measure.

“I totally believe that when the governor has stated this publicly that there’s no question what he’s going to do,” Hite said.

The Republican from Findlay said any compromise will depend on discussion with his caucus.

David Daniels, state Department of Agriculture director, and Craig Butler, Environmental Protection Agency director, also testified before the Senate committee Tuesday. They support the bill’s measures to streamline disclosure of information on oil and gas sites for emergency situations, as well as to transfer management of farm-soil pollution to the Department of Agriculture.

The agencies already have worked with Hite on the disclosure provisions that would apply to the oil and gas industry.

As it stands, the bill also would require Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas to review any operator doing business in Ohio for its history of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. The committee still has to decide how far back the agency should check for violations.

Zehringer also supported the bill’s provision to make Ohio’s enforcement of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act more “user-friendly,” he said.

The Department of Natural Resources still would be in control of the database of chemical information that first responders need in an industry-related emergency, but the agency says it is working to improve the reporting system and make sure the database is in compliance with federal regulations.

This database still will be open to the public on the agency’s website, said department spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle in an email.

Natural Resources had not kept up with changes to the federal reporting requirements for 14 years, but Zehringer said the agency received a letter from the federal EPA saying that Ohio is up to standards as of this year.

Ohio EPA Director Butler said his agency is also discussing how to best inform the public surrounding the site of an oil and gas emergency about possible water contamination, which is not included in House Bill 490.

“That (provision) is something we want to make absolutely seamless,” Butler said.

Hite said he plans to have amendments to House Bill 490 solidified by Dec. 5 and vote on the bill the following week.